In the second part of our families feature Jo Toft looks at two further families who have been significant in the history and development of the village and in particular, at their important contributions to its community.
The ‘Talafon’ Williams and their role in the community
Many of you will know the name ‘Wyn Williams’ (officially Robert Hywel Wyn Williams or sometimes simply ‘Wyn Talafon’). An Abersochian born and bred, Wyn lives right in the heart of the village and has been a respected member of the county council for over 20 years.
It was Wyn’s grandfather, Abel Williams, who founded Talafon, a business which remains central to the village today. Originally from Abergele, Abel Williams moved to the village from Llanberis in 1882 when he and his business partner, Llanberis shop owner William Brymer, opened a drapery store in Aber House (now Jack Wills). Interestingly, they chose Abersoch as the location for their new venture as the thriving local lead mines had brought a significant influx of workers to the area; they clearly felt they would do well here.
They did indeed do well, and by 1893 Abel, now sole owner, had moved to the larger and more prominent premises of Talafon, where he extended the shop and added a bakery. By this point he and his wife Elizabeth had nine children (although, as was typical for the time, only 6 of them survived infancy). The family lived and worked right in the heart of the village and were very much part of the community.
Over the next 30 years there was a considerable amount of development in the village. Many of the large houses along the High Street were built at this time, several by sea Captains who rented them out during the summer to large, wealthy families. If you look at the dates that a number of key buildings and landmarks were built, many of them were also built during this relatively short period; 1904 – Graig Chapel, 1908 – the Golf Club, 1914 – the Village Hall, 1924 – new Abersoch school, 1925 – South Caernarvonshire Yacht Club. This was a highly significant period in the development of the village and Mr Abel Williams seems to have been instrumental in much of this development.
The first building of note was the Graig chapel, the imposing Methodist chapel that sits in an elevated position at the end of Lon Gwydryn. Prior to the building of Graig, villagers used to have to walk to the Methodist chapel in Llanengan, but it was felt this was too far and so, in 1904, the new chapel was built. Abel Williams was himself a Methodist and he not only attended Graig chapel but was also first Deacon and Secretary and more than likely, he was instrumental in its establishment.
We know for certain that he was involved with Abersoch Golf Club. The club was founded in 1907 and the original 9-hole course, designed by golf architect Harry Vardon, opened in 1908. Abel, along with a group of like-minded villagers, sought to encourage visitors to the area and it was felt that an attractive golf course would be a boost to tourism. It would seem he was right, the golf course, now 18 holes, remains popular with visitors and the golf club welcomes new members whether they be residents or Abersoch regulars. Despite being instrumental in establishing the club, none of the Williams family played golf until Wyn and his cousin Bleddyn took it up. They are now both trustees of the club.
Abel had been a well-respected teacher for many years before he came to Abersoch, and in Llanberis had been headmaster of Dolbarden Boys School. Although he was now predominantly a businessman he remained interested in education and taught at the Sunday School. He had previously taught at the original Abersoch school at Min y Don and was one of a group of villagers who were instrumental in the founding of the present school on Lon Gwydryn. Although by this time there was a school at Sarn Bach (this location having been chosen due to the large number of children from farming families around Cilan) it was felt by some, and by Abel particularly, that this was just too far for the children, in particular the little children, to be walking each day (around 1 ½ miles each way). The village pulled together and in 1924 the school was built and remains in use today.
Abel was by this time a member of the county council and traveled regularly to Caernarfon to attend meetings (in the days before cars were commonplace this was far from an insignificant journey). He remained passionate about education, so much so that he and future Prime Minister David Lloyd George were apparently referred to as the ‘two pillars of education’ within the Caernarvon County education department. Both men were later made ‘Aldermen’ in recognition of their services to the county and their contributions to their local communities.
Talafon continued to thrive throughout Abel’s lifetime and was run by the family for three generations. Wyn believes his grandmother Elizabeth (herself from a business orientated family of tailors and drapers) was the original ‘brains of the business’. However, after Abel’s death his Aunt Mary also had considerable input into the business, along with his uncle (and later, step-father) Captain John Lewis Williams. Captain John had been at sea for many years, some years after his brother Hywel’s death however he came home to run the shop along with his sister, Wyn’s Aunt Mary, and her husband Griff Evans. Seven years after the death of Wyn’s father, Hywel Wyn Williams, Capt John married Wyn’s mother and so became Wyn’s stepfather as well as his uncle. He ran the shop for many years, like his father he took an active interest in the village and was Commodore of the Regatta.
Following the death of Capt John, Talafon passed to Wyn and his cousin Bleddyn who ran the business between them until 2002. Although they offered it to the next generation none of them wanted to take in on and so the business was sold.
Today Wyn continues the family tradition of involvement within the community; he is a prominent figure in the village, a local councillor who sits on several committees and is very much involved in the ‘running’ of the village. A county councillor for over 20 years Wyn feels the village has been ‘part of his life for all of his life’ and he very much wants to give something back. He likes working with people and enjoys the various working relationships he’s built. He was involved with starting the Abersoch Traders (now the Abersoch & District Trade and Tourism Association) and he’s involved with many aspects of the village from attending beach meetings relating to maintaining standards, beach events etc, fighting for the regeneration of the White House, considering improvements to the road system, the potential building of affordable housing etc.
He describes Abersoch as a very ‘busy’ community with lots of volunteers working to further various different aspects of the village and a number of projects on the go at any one time. These things are essential to the ‘smooth running’ of the village and there is a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into making Abersoch the place it is. Both his grandfather Abel and Wyn himself have very much played their parts in this ‘behind the scenes’ work.
The Winterbothams and their philanthropic contribution to the village
The Winterbothams are a family who, although they still have strong connections to the village, no longer live here and yet are known by many for the significance of their contribution to the Abersoch community.
They were in fact an English family; Sir William Howard Winterbotham, who was the first official solicitor of London, bought a large area of land in and around Abersoch towards the end of the 19th Century and built what was to be the family’s Abersoch home, Craig y Mor, in 1907. He and his wife, Lady Elizabeth, became heavily involved in village life; engaging themselves in various aspects of the community, including the sailing world. In 1910 Lady Winterbotham purchased a 25ft former fishing vessel named ‘Mabel’ and apparently became ‘well known in the racing world’.
Hugh Winterbotham, great-grandson of Sir William, told me a little about the family and their relationship to the village . . .
‘This house [Craig y Mor] was the summer family home and each summer and indeed at other holidays the whole family decamped up to Abersoch. When I say the whole family I mean the whole family including aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, children, grandchildren etc. They used to have very large family parties and . . . clearly ran out of space because in 1908 my Great-Grandfather bought the land beside Craig y Mor on which now stands Anhywel (which we still own), the Whitehouse and Glyn Dwr.
My Great-Grandfather sold the land on which the Whitehouse and Glyn Dwr now stand almost immediately to a Mrs Emily Lucas in 1908 for the grand sum of £225.00. He kept the land on which Anhywel stands and Anhywel was built as an annex to Craig y Mor in 1910.’
Sir William continued to reside at Craig y Mor until his death in 1926 and in the years in which he lived in Abersoch he and Lady Elizabeth truly became a part of the community.
The family were clearly wealthy, and notable for their benevolence. They looked after their staff extremely well, not only for the time, but even by today’s standards. They built a pair of houses opposite the Village Hall, (the semi-detached properties, ‘Morfyn’ and ‘Arfryn’), which they generously gifted to two of their staff, their gardener and their chauffeur. One of the houses was still owned by relatives of the gardener until around 20 years ago. A further example of their generosity is their conduct to the gardener’s daughter. When the gardener’s wife died and the gardener remarried, his daughter by his first wife went with the Winterbotham family to Cambridge, (where they also have strong connections). When she married the Winterbothams also bought her a house, which they fittingly named ‘Abersoch’.
The Winterbotham’s good deeds were not however, confined to their staff, they extended to the community as a whole. Sir William was a barrister and did much for the villagers, taking on various grievances and fighting their corner. One example of this relates to the villagers’ right to graze their animals on common land in Cilan. When an Englishman moved to the area and enclosed this land, the villagers responded by taking the fences down, the issue escalated and ended up at the High Court in London. Sir William represented the villagers, he won and the land remained common land.
This was just one of many philanthropic deeds by the Winterbothams. The family were clearly extremely generous and community minded; they gifted several large areas of land around the village to a variety of causes.
Hugh explains, ‘He [Sir William] also gave away the land for the local Golf course . . . my Great Grandfather was the first President or Chairman for some time and then he was followed by my Great Uncle Frederick Paige Winterbotham who I believe was Chairman or President of the Golf Club for many years.’
For many years the golf club had a strict ‘no alcohol’ rule (which was later got round by an extension to the original building!). This stemmed from the fact that Lord and Lady Winterbotham, (along with Abel Williams), were Methodists and, as such, staunch teetotalers. It was therefore stipulated that the land given by the family should remain ‘dry’.
A few years later the Winterbothams also gifted the large plot of land on which the Village Hall and car park now stand, and the hall was built in memory of their son Harold who had died of TB some years earlier. At this time the hall was extremely significant in the village, a real venue for people to meet, it held a lending library which also gave people access to daily newspapers and was used for social occasions such as the ‘Regatta Dance’, as well as for meetings and all manner of community purposes. As with the golf club, it was stipulated that no alcohol should be consumed within the Village Hall, this rule still stands and, although perhaps outdated now, is adhered to out of respect for Sir William and Lady Winterbotham and all they did for the community.
Soon after that they gave over more land to the community. Hugh continues ‘He also gave away all the land in front of Fach Farm which are the sand burrows running all the way up to the Warren Caravan site. These were given to the National Trust who continue to own the land to this day.’
As we’ve learnt, there was a group of villagers, including Abel Williams, who sought to re-establish a school in the village following the closure of the old school at Min y Don. Another of the Winterbotham’s notable deeds was that they helped to bring this to fruition by donating the land on which the school stands, adjacent to the land they’d donated 10 years previously for the Village Hall. Not only did they donate the land but, once the school was built, Lady Winterbotham especially continued to show an interest in the school, paying regular visits to see the children and in particular to inspect their cleanliness!
If you think about what these various plots of land might be worth today then you begin to get a sense of the scale of the Winterbotham’s generosity and their contribution to the village.
The Winterbotham family still own Anhywel however, in order to maintain the house, and to ensure that it can continue to be passed down to future generations, they now let the property through Abersoch Holiday Homes, although they continue to visit as often as they can. Hugh’s daughter Sophie, great-great-granddaughter of Sir William explains, ‘we love being up there and spending time in the village and catching up with the people who live in the village and surrounding areas . . . our whole family has such a strong connection with Anhywel and Abersoch and we are very mindful of our history with the area and hope never to lose the house or our connection with the village’.
Sophie and Hugh should be rightly proud of their connection to the village and of the contributions their ancestors made to the community. The Winterbothams, along with the Williams, significantly shaped the Abersoch of today – who knows how different the village might have been had these two families not chosen to make their homes here.
Thanks to Chas from abersoch.co.uk for sourcing some of our historic photos – if anyone has any old photos they’d like to share contact Chas firstname.lastname@example.org, he’ll be happy to add them to the website where more people can enjoy them. Photos also provided by Wyn Williams, Paul Proctor & Abersoch Golf Club.